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We know that supporting a young person can feel really worrying. You might be feeling overwhelmed, scared or unsure what you should do but you’re not alone – we’re here to offer information to help you and the young person you’re supporting.

This information is for parents, carers, family members and guardians of a young person. You might be:

  • Worried about a young person’s mental health
  • Supporting a young person who’s living with a mental health problem or experiencing something difficult
  • Looking for ways to help yourself or find support for yourself

Signs a young person might be experiencing poor mental health

It can be hard to know if a young person is struggling with their mental health or wellbeing. We all act in different ways when we’re going through a tough time.

You might notice some of the following signs, you might see something different, or you might not notice anything at all. These signs could also be linked to a young person’s physical health, or something else entirely.

Some of the ways they might act differently include:

  • Seeming distant, or not themselves
  • Not meeting up with friends or partners
  • Spending more time alone than usual
  • Not chatting, smiling or laughing as much
  • Seeming less confident
  • Talking about feelings that worry you
  • Losing interest in or not doing activities they normally love
  • Crying, shouting or feeling angry
  • Being restless
  • Smoking, drinking, or using drugs when they didn’t before
  • Using social media in a different way, or more or less than before

Some of the physical changes you might notice include:

  • Not dressing with as much care as they used to
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Finding it hard to concentrate
  • Looking tired
  • Not washing or taking care of themselves like they used to
  • Hurting themselves on purpose
  • Repetitive behaviour, like tapping or checking things a lot

How to start a conversation about their mental health

It’s okay to feel uncertain about talking about mental health – you’re not alone. If you’re worried about speaking to a young person about their mental health and wellbeing, it can help to feel prepared. You don’t need to have a long conversation every time, you might just want to check in to see how they’re feeling.

Take a look at the advice below, especially if it’s your first time talking to them:

  • Try to find a time and place that suits you both. The time may never feel perfect, but it can help if you both feel calm and comfortable. This could mean talking in a quiet place, or it could mean doing an activity together.
  • It can help to practise what you want to say. You could practise in your head or aloud with someone you know. You could write things down too, or talk to someone on a helpline, like the YoungMinds Parents and Carers Helpline.
  • There’s no perfect way to begin a conversation. However you choose to do it, try your best to start in a calm and open-minded way. You might not understand exactly what they’re going through, and that’s okay.
  • Try not to feel disheartened at your first attempt. They might not respond well the first time, or might not want to engage at all. You can try again at a different time when they’re ready.
  • Give them the space they need. Pressuring them to talk can push them away. Let them know you’re there for them and let them come to you. It’s important to respect their boundaries – there are some things they might not want to share or talk about with you.

What could I say to begin with?

If you’re feeling nervous about talking to them, you might feel more confident knowing how you could start the conversation.

You might have already noticed some signs of poor mental health or wellbeing. You could consider phrases like:

  • “This might be difficult for us to talk about, but I’d like to talk to you about something.”
  • “I noticed you’ve been feeling ___ lately. I wondered if you wanted to talk about it?”
  • “You’ve not seemed yourself in the past couple of weeks. Is there anything you want to talk about?”
  • “I thought you were acting a little differently recently. I know you might feel like you can’t talk to me, but I can help you find people you can contact if you want to talk about ___.”

You could also find information or examples from something on TV, online or in a book that they might relate to. For example, you could ask “have you been watching the series about…”. Or ask “what do you think about the character who’s experiencing…”.

You might be checking in regularly with them, even when things seem to be going well. You could consider phrases like:

  • “How are things going at school/college/training?”
  • “If you ever need to talk to anyone, you know that I’m here for you?”
  • “It seems like you’re feeling okay about ___, but you can always talk to me if you want to.”
  • “You seem really happy about ___! I’d love to hear more about it.”
  • “I remember you told me that you were upset about ___ last week. How are you feeling about it now?”

If you need information or advice, please give us a call on 01482 240133 or email [email protected]

Information credit: Mind (2022)